"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Thursday, February 12, 2004 This whole "sanctity of marriage is threatened by gay marriage business" has become pretty tiresome, but as a priest, I've got a particular bent on this whole mess -- one that not suprisingly puts me at odds with most of mainline American Christianity (most of which is, I am convinced, so far from anything Christ would have wanted to be associated that I am happy to be at odds with it!).
I think there are at least two major issues here.
The first is the role of the church as agent of the state in marriage. As an Episcopal priest performing a wedding, I wear two hats -- priest and agent of the state. As a result, I have to conform not only to the canons of my church but to the laws of the state.
I have come to believe that this is a really, really bad idea and that the church should get out of the "agent of the state" business. This would do two things.
1)Eliminate the problem around the word "marriage." Most of people's problem with gay marriage is based in a literal reading of Judeo-Christian scripture that narrowly defines it as between a man and a woman. There is no reason the state needs to be concerned with what is essentially a theological debate. Let the churches have the word "marriage" and let them each define it as they choose. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to define it as between a man and a woman, great. If the Episcopal Church wishes to talk about a covenanted relationship of mutuality, fidelity, monagamy self-giving love without regard to the gender of the partners -- hooray for us!
With the church out of the agent of the state business, the state can have one category for everyone -- civil union. Frankly, that's the only thing it's appropriate for the state to license to begin with. Marriage is a religious category. If people want to have their relationships blessed, they are free to do that in whichever church they wish to and it is up to that church to decide whether or not they will call it a marriage or something else.
One of my biggest problems with the whole debate that is happening in Massachusetts and the idiotic talk about a consitutional ammendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is that it is not the state's job to define marriage -- it is the church's job. Marriage is a sacrament. What is next? A constitutional ammendment defining confirmation age? A state supreme court ruling about who can receive Eucharist? The only reason that state has authority over the term is that we have this place where the Venn diagrams of church and state meet in clergy performing marriages. Eliminate that and you eliminate the state's jurisdiction over the term.
2) It would allow us to redeem marriage as a religious covenant. Right now anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) who wants to be toegether as a couple and have full civil benefits as such has to "get married." These days it is the minority (not a small minority, but a minority nonetheless) of couples who care about the religious implications of the marriage covenant -- and yet everyone is shoved through the same door.
If we eliminated clergy as agents of the state, then every couple would have to go through the legal process of getting a civil union. Then, those who were serious about having a religious covenant in the context of a church community could enter into that in addition. You wouldn't force people who really weren't interested in the religious aspects of it to go through the motions, and you could really have buy-in from those who chose to do it.
The second is all this "crisis in the sanctity of marriage" crap. It's been well document what a true load that is. Britney Spears' latest debacle and things like "the Bachelor" are just the slow-pitch/easy to hit examples of how absurd their line of thinking is. Anyone who thinks that committed gay and lesbian people wanting to get married is responsible for the serial monogamy that has replaced marriage as the norm in this country is either in deep denial, deeply deluded or just not terribly bright.
The thing is, there is a huge crisis in this country that marriage is wrapped up in. And ironically, it is a crisis that many gay and lesbian couples I know can be examples for us as we struggle to get through it. The crisis is a crisis of commitment.
We have become such habitual consumers of everything in this country -- including relationship. The norm is no longer lifelong commitment -- to anything. The norm is staying with something as long as it suits us and then switching to something else. We see this not only in the high rate of not just divorce but multiple divorce, but in many other things -- the volatility of the stock market (I remember my parents sold stock as often as they bought new cars -- they always talked about choosing a good company that they believed in and really investing in it ... sticking with it ... that is nowhere near the norm anymore), the way people will flee from one church to another if there is a time of conflict or if they don't like the priest, the way people's support for political candidates will disappear overnight if the candidate makes one mistake.
An amazing friend of mine, Becca Stevens, told me once that "we live in a society that permits everything but forgives nothing." We are ready to cut anything and anybody loose to leave 'em twisting in the wind if it becomes inconvenient or -- God forbid -- painful to stick with them. And we call people naive or worse when they demonstrate otherwise.
Now, there are definitely situations where divorce is an unfortunate necessity. I believe the bar is when the relationship becomes toxic to the degree that it stops being a sacrament (which is always life-giving) and starts being death-producing. Same with commitments to other communities and same with friendships, which I also believe are sacramental (revealing of God's grace). And yet we are consistently told to get out when it suits us.
It's not universal. There are plenty of people who are committed to things and stick with them ... but they certainly don't get the publicity, and they certainly are not the model that is held up for us as a society -- which is where our societal norms come from.
So there is a crisis in this country ... and it is a crisis of commitment. Of sticking with something. Of keeping promises. Of honoring vows and relationships not just when convenient but especially when it's not.
But it's much, much easier to point to a minority group like gays and lesbians and say that they are the reason for the "crisis in the sanctity of marriage" -- especially for those in power. Because if we were to look at the real problem we would all have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask questions like:
*how is it our president can pledge to "leave no child behind" and then pass education legislation that adversely effects poor school districts?
*how is it our president can promise not to engage in nation building with the U.S. military and then proceed to do that within a year of being in office?
*how is it that we live in a country that is founded on the principle that "all (people) are created equal" and that all have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and yet our household pets get better health care than the vast majority of people on this planet, and a huge number of people in this country?
*how is it that we claim to be "one nation, under God," continually chant "God bless America" and spout off about how this country is the great, divinely-ordained force for good against evil in the world when we conveniently forget Jesus' command to feed the hungry and heal the sick (and in doing so meet him) when we fail to fund the Global Fund for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and give only 0.1% of our GNP -- the lowest of any developed nation -- to help the 30+ million people dying of AIDS, the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day and countless others who lack even the most basic necessities of life.
These are all about commitment. Commitment to values. Commitment to each other as human beings. Commitment to our fellow men and women as citizens of this country. Far from leaving no child behind, we will leave just about anyone behind.
In the midst of this, I look to gay and lesbian couples who have persevered in long-term committed relationships without support of society and often without support of family and friends and I say "THANK GOD FOR THEM!" They -- and others who have stayed in heterosexual marriages through tough times, and others who have stuck with communities during tough times, and who have stuck with issues when they became unpopular and with people when they became scapegoated -- all of these people remind me of what is possible, of the greatness that human beings, with God's help, are capable of.
So I have no patience for this "defend the sanctity of marriage" bullshit. For one, it's one more non-issue to take up our time while real people are dying and going without education and health care. God forbid we should actually DO SOMETHING about that! But more than that, it's just one more tiresome piece of avoidance. Of one group of people burying it's head in the sand while patting itself on the back for being so much superior.
We'll have one of these idiotic ammendments coming up in Missouri, too. And the biggest problem I have with it is that so many people who really want to be spending their time doiing things that are really worthwhile will have to waste their time fighting against it. I'm convinced that's how the devil works. We are Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.
But fear not and keep the faith. As Gandhi said, at every important moment in history, the power of good has always won. Evil has flourished for awhile, and for awhile it has even looked like evil would win ... but in the end, good always is the victor.
I am not convinced that I am the agent of good in all things -- or even in most things. I am much to acquainted with my own faults to do that. But I am convinced when we, through Christ, have the strength to stand on the side of honoring loving commitment and spending our energies to feed the hungry, care for the sick and to free the oppressed that we're in the right place.
| Mike at 2/12/2004 09:07:00 PM
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."